Being a novice morel hunter myself, I sat down with Firefly Grill’s own Dean Samuel (Kristie’s dad) and chatted with him about how to find morel mushrooms here in the midwest. Gray, white, and yellow morels grow in forest areas all throughout the midwest near ash and elm trees. They have a mild earthy nutty flavor and a long shelf life. However, they’re growing season is only a few short weeks between March and the beginning of May. Best way to serve them up? Try them battered and lightly fried or (like in the recipe pictured below) in a creamy mushroom sauce. Want the recipe? Check it out here: Sous Vide Chicken Breast with Morel Mushroom Sauce
If you don’t live here in Illinois, don’t fret. They’re also found as far north as the middle of Minnesota, northern Michigan, and even in the southern parts of Maine! They trail all the way down to north Texas too. Then they skim the northern borders of the southern states over to South Carolina. Completing their loop as they shimmy up to the midwest state of Ohio. Finally for a big finish, they jump to the western slopes of the Rocky Mountains of Oregon. I’m sure a missed a state or two, but you get the idea. They have a long reach, a short growing season, and they’re terribly difficult to find. But tons of fun to look for! (Note: Plan B at the bottom of the post)
How To Find Morel Mushrooms… Know Your Trees
Specifically, know how to identify ash and elm trees. This is particularly challenging when there are no leaves on them! That leaves you two options: 1) scout out your trees the year before (bwahahaha! Like that’s going to happen!) or 2) Google “What does ash and elm tree bark look like.” I opted for the latter. After looking at 14,570 pictures of elm bark, I realized couldn’t tell the difference between the barks of an elm, oak, and maple trees, but then I discovered that the bark of an ash tree is distinctive! Hallelujah!
If the ash or elm is dead, your chances of finding morels increase dramatically. Morels don’t confine themselves to the base of the tree. They can be anywhere in it’s shadow, up to 30 or 40 feet from the tree. Dean suggests: “once you find a morel, don’t pick it right away. Use it as a center point and start to make a circular sweep out from that point. If there’s one, there’s bound to be more! Also, they grow like wildfire for several years after a forest fire!”
Look for them at the right time
Morels start popping up when the soil first starts to warm, usually from the end of March to mid May as you move north. In our neck of the woods here in central Illinois, we usually start seeing them in mid to late April. They like well drained soil on southern facing slopes.
One of the nicest things about morel hunting is seeing the first flowers of spring! The other thing I like about this time of year, it’s not buggy and the chances of walking head first into a ginormous spiderweb (complete with a HUGE spider) is next to ZERO!!! You still want to spray yourself down with bug spray because there are plenty of ticks that would love to find you. Wear long sleeves, jeans, a hat (ticks fall down from the trees) and good walking boots or shoes.
Tread softly and carry a big stick
Finding morels is the culinary equivalent of the proverbial “needle in a haystack.” As you can plainly tell from the picture of above. They are the Navy Seals in full blown stealth mode of the mushroom kingdom.
Before I chatted Dean up about this elusive morsels, I asked another successful morel hunter and very good friend of ours, Tom Mette, for his insight on how to find morel mushrooms. Tom mentioned having excellent luck in the Shawnee National Park in southern Illinois and also suggested Plan B. And what is Plan B??? Well, if you follow all these tips and still come up empty handed, make sure you take with you these 3 things when you go on your morel adventure. 1) Your sweetheart, 2) a bottle of wine and 3) a comfy blanket. When you get tired of the search, spread out the blanket and enjoy the early days of spring in the fresh forest air and warm sun! I couldn’t agree more!As an end note, if you have any friends who would also like to know how to find morel mushrooms please feel free to share this post